It hits the news this morning that the Trade Union Bill, which has cleared the Commons already and is facing its second reading in the Lords today, could cost Labour up to £6 million pounds a year in terms of funding. To put this in perspective, the Labour Party spent £35 million in 2014, a year without a general election. So it would be a loss of about 15-20% of core income from a steady source, which would be bad enough. But the affect on British politics and the Labour Party will be greater than just this.
Essentially, the unions will no longer have the same direct buy-in to the Labour Party – and conversely, the Labour Party will be less reliant on the unions for support by definition. So what happens to the relationship between the party and the trade unions could go one of several ways, but it will almost certainly change. This would be tricky for Labour to go through at any time but will be felt particularly sharply during a period when there is a civil war going on within it.
That’s before we get onto Jeremy Corbyn’s war against Trident renewal, which as I’ve said before, is almost guaranteed to fail, but nonetheless may make all these problems between Labour and the unions considerably worse. The unions are passionately pro-Trident, something I myself experienced first hand one particular afternoon at Unite HQ when I was present at the proposal of an idea that was based around keeping the deterrent but in a lesser, cheaper form. It would an understatement to say that the union representatives assembled hated the idea. Anything less than full renewal is unthinkable, was the message that came across loud and clear. It makes sense why this is, given the jobs that are at stake if renewal were for some reason not to go ahead – and let us remind ourselves that the purpose of trade unions is to protect the jobs and conditions of their members, not to save the world from M.A.D.
Anyhow, I’m surprised that Labour haven’t gone much more crazy over this topic. But I suppose the Bill is something the Tories are doing to them, as opposed to something Corbyn or anti-Corbyn forces are doing to one another, so no one can get up the strength to fight the external enemy. Given the historic relationship between trade unionism and the Labour Party, this move will present them with an existential challenge, one they seem particularly unprepared for at present.